Older Adults Are at High Risk for Severe RSV Infection

Fact sheet - Older Adults are at High Risk for Severe RSV Infection.

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Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common virus that affects the lungs and breathing passages.

RSV infections can be dangerous for certain adults. Adults at highest risk for severe RSV infection include

  • Older adults, especially those 65 years and older
  • Adults with chronic heart or lung disease
  • Adults with weakened immune systems

Each year an estimated 177,000 older adults are hospitalized and 14,000 of them die in the United States due to RSV infection.

Severe RSV infection

When an older adult gets RSV infection, they typically have mild cold-like symptoms including runny nose, sore throat, cough, and headache. But RSV can sometimes lead to serious conditions such as:

illustration of older man with a look of pain on his face, holding an x-ray over his chest; on the x-ray, one lung appears healthy and one appears abnormal, with pain.
  • Pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
  • More severe symptoms for people with asthma
  • More severe symptoms for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (a chronic disease of the lungs that makes it hard to breathe)
  • Congestive heart failure (when the heart can’t pump blood and oxygen to the body’s tissues)

Older adults who get very sick from RSV may need to be hospitalized. Some may even die. Older adults are at greater risk than young adults for serious complications from RSV because our immune systems weakens when we are older.

illustration of nurse and doctor talking with older patient in a hospital bed.

Scientists are working to develop vaccines

There is no vaccine to prevent RSV infection yet, but scientists are working hard to develop one. If you are concerned about your risk for RSV, talk to your doctor.

How to protect yourself and loved ones

RSV season occurs each year in most regions of the U.S. during fall, winter, and spring. If you are at high risk for severe RSV infection, or if you interact with an older adult, you should take extra care to stay healthy:

  • Wash your hands often
    Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Washing your hands will help protect you from germs.
  • Keep your hands off your face
    Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Germs spread this way.
    Grandmother and granddaughter washing their hands.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people
    Avoid close contact, such as kissing, and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who have cold-like symptoms.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
    Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw the tissue in the trash afterward.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces
    Clean and disinfect surfaces that people frequently touch, such as doorknobs. When people infected with RSV touch surfaces and objects, they can leave behind germs. Also, when they cough or sneeze, droplets containing germs can land on surfaces and objects.
  • Stay home when you are sick
    If possible, stay home from work, school, and public areas when you are sick. This will help protect others from catching your illness.
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